Wednesday, May 2, wasn’t a good day in appointed interim District Attorney Summer Stephan’s quest to win her first election in the June Primary.
In Justice Today, a leading publication in the field of criminal justice reform called out Stephan’s claims about human trafficking, suggesting she’s used inflated numbers to bolster her political and professional profile.
And Genevieve Jones-Wright, Stephan’s opponent in the upcoming June primary, has asked the State Attorney General’s office to investigate ten alleged violations of state law prohibiting employees–in this case, local law enforcement–from participating in political activities of any kind while in uniform.
“Meet The San Diego DA Who Seized On The Human Trafficking Panic to Become A Law Enforcement Superstar” takes Stephan to task on two issues; a possible inflation of the numbers involved in human trafficking in San Diego and a one size fits all approach to prostitution.
Much of the interim DA’s reputation as tough on trafficking came after a joint press conference featuring Stephan and the University of San Diego’s School of Peace Studies in October 2015.
The estimated annual number of trafficking victims originally claimed an estimated range of 8,830 to 11,773 victims annually in San Diego. The Justice Department looked at the research and pushed back on the numbers, finding the estimated range based on the research to be closer to 3,417 to 8,108 victims.
Much of the publicity about law enforcement activities is based on the original numbers, along with the assumption of a vast, hidden “industry” worth $810 million per year.
In Justice Today ran the numbers by Dr. Anthony Marcus, chair of the anthropology department at John Jay College of the City University of New York, who has also conducted DOJ-funded research into trafficking. He suggested that even the Justice Department numbers were problematic.
And then there are the actual results:
As for actual human trafficking, a category that also includes labor trafficking, prosecutions at Stephan’s office are down to 19 in total for the fiscal year ending in September 2017 from a high of 32 in 2013. As Cyber Patrol and Operation Reclaim and Rebuild demonstrate, what Stephan’s office has focused on instead is targeting men who attempt to buy sex, as well as lobbying for increased penalties for these men.
Stephan has touted her office’s support of new state laws that she says will help people who have been trafficked. The San Diego district attorney’s support of these laws is relatively new, however. In 2016, the office opposed SB 1322, which decriminalized prostitution for minors, joining with other prosecutors in the state, as well as SB 823, which would have vacated past criminal charges of those who were prosecuted while they were being trafficked. But since SB 823 went into effect, the San Diego public defender’s office and Free to Thrive, a local nonprofit that provides legal services to trafficking survivors, told In Justice Today they have only been able to clear the records of six individuals.
In a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Stephan acknowledged that her high-profile work on trafficking launched her into the top prosecutor spot once Dumanis announced her resignation. “Victims’ groups, a lot of the human trafficking work that I do, started to say, are you going to be the next DA,” she said. “We now are the gold standard for how you do sex crimes and human trafficking. I get called by other DA offices all the time to try to recreate it.” Prominent Stephan supporters, too, repeatedly tout her trafficking focus. On April 25, San Diego Convention Center Chair Gil Cabrera tweeted that Stephan “has lead [sic] the field” in trafficking.
The article concludes:
Promising tough action against trafficking has helped Stephan garner an image as a progressive leader, even as the “reforms” she supports perpetuate the carceral status quo of criminalizing sex work, while possibly making it more difficult to help the actual victims of trafficking. Even Stephan seems to acknowledge her office’s limits in combating trafficking. “We know we can’t prosecute ourselves out of it,” she said in a 2017 story on San Diego’s “slow but steady progress” in the trafficking fight. Still, she added, “[i]t has to be a war that everyone engages in.”
So, 19 arrests in a crime category generating $810 million a year with as many as 11,773 victims, certainly seems a little hinky.
The campaign of Genevieve Jones-Wright has taken the extraordinary step of appealing to the State Attorney General’s office, asking them to pursue an investigation into the use of public employees in political ads supporting interim DA Summer Stephan’s campaign.
They took this action after realizing that following the standard procedure for reporting campaign violations would mean the District Attorney’s office would be in charge of investigating their boss.
Here’s a snip from the letter sent to Julie Garland, Senior Assistant Attorney General:
While election violations are typically reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission, my campaign has been informed that misleading or illegal campaign materials are investigated by local jurisdictions. The jurisdiction in this case would be the County of San Diego, and therefore the enforcement arm would be the Public Integrity Unit of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. As there is a clear conflict of interest in the District Attorney’s Office investigating the campaign of the interim District Attorney, we were advised to submit the complaints to the Office of the Attorney General.
The pages that follow contain explanations and evidence of ten separate violations of both Government Code sections 3206 and 3302 (a) as well as one possible violation of Government Code section 54964.
According to Government Code section 3206, No officer or employee of a public agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform. Furthermore, in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, and Government Code 3302(a): Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity.
UPDATE: The uniformed Sheriff to the right (as you look at the picture) of Stephan is Capt. Marco Garmo. State investigators referred a case on him to the DA’s office for violating state limits on gun sales. No charges were filed by then-DA Bonnie Dumanis. He received a written reprimand from Sheriff Bill Gore. Garmo has also contributed to the campaigns of both Dumanis and Stephan and is an elected member of the SD County Republican Central Committee. There’s nothing like friends in high places.
In case you haven’t heard, California Republicans are gathering in San Diego this weekend.
Joe Garofoli at the San Francisco Chronicle described the dilemma they face in an article titled Remember the Alamo: California Republicans face an existential moment:
The California Republican Party convention begins Friday in San Diego, and the expectations for the weekend are — if we’re being polite — modest. If we’re being real, they’re lower than dirt…
…Defending the Alamo won’t be easy. There probably won’t be a Republican on the November general election ballot for U.S. Senate, and the GOP candidates who have a shot at making the runoff for governor share the same nickname with most voters: “Who?”
There aren’t reinforcements on the way. When the state’s new voter registration figures are announced May 16, there’s a very good chance more people will be labeled nonpartisan than Republican. That would put the GOP in virtually third-party status in the country’s largest state.
The party is hoping to garner more public support through its support of a November ballot measure repealing California’s Gas Tax.
And the discussions will certainly include pathways to supporting local governments who want to go on record as opposing the California Values Act, which defines procedures for law enforcement when it comes to cooperating with Federal immigration enforcement programs.
While such activities may energize the GOP’s base voters, they also run the risk of further alienating the party from the state’s growing Latino population.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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